At Cape Town, March 1-5, 2014. Australia won by 245 runs. Toss: Australia.
For the deciding Test, the teams travelled to Newlands, where South Africa's recent record was dominant, and where, two and a half years earlier, Australia had surrendered for 47. Clarke's men were fortified by a week's coaching from Shane Warne (the closest thing the captain had to a lucky charm), then sustained by a superlative performance from the provocative Warner. The upshot was a tense defeat for Graeme Smith in his last international, a result that ended South Africa's run of 14 unbeaten series stretching back to December 2009. The lion-hearted Harris, whose body was in desperate need of rest - or surgery - grabbed the last two wickets to ensure Australia's magnificent summer contained both the recapture of the Ashes and the overthrow of the No. 1 Test side.
The preliminary skirmishes were fractious, with South Africa smarting at the accusation that de Villiers had behaved questionably in the Second Test. Warner was fined for his comments, though on the first day here the umpires did speak to de Villiers about how he handled the ball with his gloves (the gist of Warner's complaint at Port Elizabeth); and, on the last, the Australians were warned for bouncing the ball into the square. All of which was proof that, on a pitch offering only a little more life than at Port Elizabeth, the search for reverse swing was more desperate than ever.
The openers were away quickly after Clarke won an invaluable toss. Warner's ability to punch holes in the field, then milk singles to the newly placed outriders, kept the scoreboard moving. Steyn dismissed Rogers, but felt for his hamstring shortly afterwards, and his contribution of only ten overs to the innings - 13 in the match - was ruinous for South Africa. Perhaps sensing the urgency of the situation, Morkel squared up to Clarke with rare ferocity, keen to prolong his run of lean scores. Ball after ball from around the wicket thudded into shoulder, chest, helmet and gloves, as a chronic back condition prevented Clarke from evasive gymnastics. (It later emerged his shoulder was fractured during the barrage.) The slips whooped, the crowd winced, and Warner watched, all wondering how long it could last; one ball was gloved inches from short leg. But eventually Morkel began to tire, and Clarke was spared even greater examination by the absence of Steyn and by Morkel's inability to mix his short balls with fuller ones.
Once he had survived this going-over, Clarke gathered strength, and followed Warner's sparkling hundred with a proud century of his own, his 27th in Tests and his fifth against South Africa. That too was a struggle: he stoically waited on 99 for 24 balls (including three maidens from the disciplined Abbott, who had been drafted in to replace the injured Wayne Parnell), before carving Philander through cover. Steven Smith departed for a spiky 84, but Clarke was unbeaten on 161 when he declared on the third morning on Australia's overnight 494 for seven.
Harris and Johnson had been joined by the fresh Pattinson - his return spelled the end, at least in the short term, for Peter Siddle, who had been a near-fixture in the side for more than two and a half years - and on a sunnier third day they worked their way through South Africa. Graeme Smith was defeated by a beauty from Harris that seamed away, Elgar by a flying catch from Haddin as he tried to fend off Pattinson, and Petersen by a body-bound bouncer from Johnson. The lessons from the previous Test had clearly been learned, and Harris began to bend the old ball sharply, ripping out Amla and deceiving Duminy either side of Johnson's procurement of an edge from de Villiers. Du Plessis marshalled a serviceable lower-order rearguard, and was subjected to a volley of abuse after choosing to pick up the ball rather than leave it for the fielders. He later likened the Australians to "a pack of dogs".
By now it was clear South African hopes extended no further than a draw, and passages of the third innings were numbing in their one-sidedness. (There was also the shock of Smith's international retirement to digest, puzzlingly announced late on the third evening.) Warner had the time of his life, clattering the attack to all parts, while Steyn's brief attempt to bowl yielded 24 runs in three overs. A second hundred for Warner, his fourth in six Tests against South Africa, plus a few lusty blows from Steven Smith and Watson, ensured South Africa were set 511; more realistically, they would need to survive a minimum of 131 overs.
Once Harris had pinned Petersen, Johnson had worried out Graeme Smith one last time and then sent Elgar's stumps tumbling - all within six overs - it looked as if surviving even 31 might be a challenge. But de Villiers settled into the trance-like dead batting he had perfected at Adelaide in 2012-13, when he scored 33 from 220 balls.
Amla almost made it to the fourth-day close, only to be beaten by Pattinson's fine inswinger. But the nightwatchman Abbott lasted 90 minutes next day, causing Australian nerves to flutter, before he shouldered arms to Pattinson. Each wicket took serious time and effort. Another exemplary spell from Harris - now using the second new ball - eventually accounted for de Villiers after nearly five and a half hours of stonewalling, and it took another 18 overs before Steven Smith's disarming leg-spin did for du Plessis, hounded from the crease with a chorus of mock barking from the fielders. Australia had needed 102 overs to take seven wickets, and their frustration was mounting. A nasty, if accidental, beamer from Pattinson to Philander did not look good.
The game seemed to be drifting from Australia until Duminy glanced Johnson to leg slip. Soon after, Philander survived an apparent catch at short leg on slight evidence, the third umpire ruling that his glove was not on the handle at the crucial moment. Then Clarke and Steyn crossed paths, eyeballs spinning… There were just five overs of the last hour remaining when Clarke once more called on Harris. Little was left in anyone's tank, and South Africa seemed closer to salvation than defeat. But Harris's first ball was a yorker that sneaked past Steyn's bat, and the third zipped through Morkel. Australia rejoiced as victorious warriors; South Africa gathered around their retiring captain and pondered the end of an age. Steyn and Clarke, so angry minutes before, met each other warmly at the finish. This prizefight had not always been pretty, but in that moment there was honour among worthy foes.
Man of the Match: D. A. Warner. Man of the Series: D. A. Warner.
Man of the Match: D. A. Warner. Man of the Series: D. A. Warner.